Women’s Commission’s Ex-Head Opposes Govt’s School Move

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SRINAGAR: A day after the Education Department announced to devise a strategy for opening schools in mid-June, former chairperson of the J&K Women Commission, Vasundra Pathak Masoodi, termed the action as “an abject contravention and violation of the guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry under the National Disaster Act”.

In a letter written to the Lieutenant Governor, Masoodi, who is a Supreme Court advocate, took strong exception of the circular issued by the School Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Civil Secretariat, Srinagar, in which it was mentioned that government intended to open schools in mid-June.

The content of the letter is being reproduced here verbatim

His excellency,

Lieutenant Governor,

Jammu and Kashmir,

Raj Bhawan,

Jammu/Srinagar.

Date:02.06.2020

Hon’ble Sir,

I may draw your kind attention to the circular issued by the School Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Civil Secretariat, Srinagar vide No.Edu/ Acctts/ Misc/ 2020/11 dated 01.06.2020. The said circular inter alia asserts that the J&K Government intends to re-open the schools in mid of June 2020. Pertinently, it would not be out of place, to refer the guidelines issued by Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs dated 30.05.2020, which will come into effect from 1st June 2020 and will be effective till 30th June 2020.The guidelines specifically address the issue qua the reopening of schools in Phase II.

According to the said guidelines the State Governments/UT administrations have been advised to hold consultations at the institution level with “parents” and other “stakeholders”. Based on the feedback, a decision on the re-opening of these institutions will be taken in the month of July. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) will prepare SOPs for these institutions.

A bare perusal of the guidelines elucidate and makes it abundantly clear that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has not allowed the opening of schools before 30.06.2020. The guidelines further emphasize that the decision with regards to the opening of schools would be taken in the month of July based on the feedback obtained after consulting parents and other stakeholders at the institutional level.

Therefore, the impugned circular by the Education Department with regards to the opening of schools in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir by mid June is in abject contravention and violation of the guidelines that were issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in exercise of the powers under section 6(2)(i) of National Disaster Act. The said circular is also highly unwanted and unwarranted on account of being completely arbitrary in nature for the said circular has been issued without consulting the parents/the stake holders and in absence of any SOPs by (MoHFW) which is the “conditio sine qua non” for arriving at such a decision as mandated by the above referred guidelines.

Our children (students) are the most precious and invaluable assets that the mankind is bestowed with. Therefore, the health, safety and security of students should be of utmost priority and concern viz a viz safeguarding their academic interests. The academic interests could be safeguarded through different mediums but in view of incessant and unarresting spike of Covid 19 cases in Jammu and Kashmir, any decision to open the schools at this juncture without any tangible safeguards and gauging a satisfactory decline in the deadly pandemic could lead us to irreversible/ colossal loss and ad infinitum regret that could not be quantified or compensated by any means whatsoever.

I have been approached by many parents across the UT of Jammu and Kashmir who have shared their fear and unwillingness to let their wards join the school until the threat of this deadly pandemic Covid 19 is over as they are apprehensive that the children may not be able to strictly adhere to the social distancing norms.

In view of above, I may request Your Excellency to order an immediate withdrawal of the impugned circular dated 1.06.2020 issued by the Education Department, so that the parents and students across Jammu and Kashmir may have a sigh of relief.

Vasundhara Pathak Masoodi,

Advocate,

Supreme Court of India

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